While there are myriad benefits to breastfeeding for both you and your baby, there are also some drawbacks. One of the more serious ones is that it can interfere with prolactin modulation – a process through which your body naturally produces the hormone prolactin, which helps regulate breastmilk production. When your body is not exposed to sufficient levels of estrogen (a type of hormone produced primarily from the ovaries), your prolactin production can become imbalanced, putting you and your baby at risk. This means that if you’re planning on breastfeeding, you need to be extra careful with your contraception choices, because you don’t want to end up with an unplanned pregnancy while your body is still adjusting to pregnancy hormones (which again, you’re not used to having in large quantities). Also, make sure to get sufficient rest and avoid exposure to sunlight. It can also be helpful to consult with your doctor about which medications or herbs might be safe for breastfeeding. Luckily, there are also options beyond conventional medicine for dealing with this issue, and many mothers choose to naturalize their breastfeeding experience by choosing to supplement with herbs. Below, we’ll discuss the possible risks and side effects of breastfeeding, along with give you some tips on how to make the most of it so you can both come out happy, healthy parents.
How Does Breastfeeding Impact Prolactin?
It’s well known that the hormone prolactin plays a crucial role in breastfeeding. Prolactin stimulates the production of another hormone, oxytocin, which triggers lactation in mammary glands. In addition, prolactin also plays a role in brain development and functions, including memory and learning skills. As you can imagine, if your body does not produce enough prolactin naturally, you and your baby are at risk for a host of issues, including delayed growth and development, poor appetite, and impaired cognitive functions. According to the American Association of Pediatrics, when breastfeeding is practiced for too long, it can also lead to an overgrowth of breast tissue in children, along with an overproduction of milk.
Possible Side Effects of Breastfeeding
Your breasts are among the most delicate organs in your body, and because they’re so important, it’s not surprising that breastfeeding can be rather complicated. The American Association of Pediatrics notes that while there are many advantages to breastfeeding, it’s also very important to be aware of the potential risks. Here are some of the side effects of breastfeeding that the organization feels are of particular concern:
- Infection – From common colds to staph infections, your breasts are at risk for infections due to their constant exposure to germs. Make sure to clean them thoroughly after each use, and protect them from exposure to the elements. You might also consider investing in a good pair of nursing bras, designed especially for breastfeeding mothers. Not only will they reduce the risk of infections, but they’ll also help keep your breasts elevated while feeding, which can reduce the risk of tissue damage. If you regularly use antibiotics, you might need to ask your doctor about whether or not they’re safe for breastfeeding.
- Thromboembolism (blood clots) – Deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism are some of the more serious risks associated with prolonged breastfeeding. Your body is in a constant state of inflammation while you’re breastfeeding, which puts you at risk for blood clots. The problem is that while your body is processing all the extra nutrients from your food, it is not properly deactivating the clotting factors in your blood. This means that while you might be feeling better about your body, you’re actually putting it at great risk for serious health issues. Make sure to ask your doctor about whether or not there are any alternatives to breastfeeding that reduce your risk for thromboembolism.
- Nausea – Some mothers express discomfort while breastfeeding due to a variety of reasons. One of the more common ones is nausea. While it can be difficult to eat with nausea, it’s an especially terrible sensation for a mother to experience while breastfeeding. If you’re experiencing nausea while breastfeeding, try consulting with your doctor about whether or not there are any over-the-counter medications that might ease your discomfort.
- Weight Gain – If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll obviously be gaining weight. In fact, it’s quite common for mothers to put on as much as ten pounds while their bodies are still in the process of readjusting to motherhood. This might not seem like a problem at first, but if you’re not used to your body weighing so much, you might experience health problems later in life. It’s also worth pointing out that while you’re breastfeeding, it is highly likely that your baby is also gaining weight. This is a double whammy when it comes to your health, and it’s definitely not ideal. Try to get used to your body the way it is while you’re breastfeeding. You’ll both look back in gratitude one day.
- Mastitis – This is an inflammation of the breast that can be quite painful. It’s quite possible that you might misdiagnose this problem as breast cancer due to its similarities, and that’s a lot of fear and anxiety that you and your baby could have avoided if you’d only known better.
- Infected Breast Ducts – If you’re experiencing persistent wetness in your breast, don’t be alarmed. This might simply be a result of your body’s attempt to heal itself after giving birth, and it’s also perfectly normal. However, if you’re feeling extra wetness during non-maternity periods, this might be a sign that you’re carrying an infection. Make sure to consult with your doctor about this persistent wetness so that they can diagnose and treat the underlying cause of your infection. Fortunately, this can be quite easily treated with antibiotics, and it’s a condition that many mothers happily and safely endure while breastfeeding. While there are certainly risks associated with prolonged breastfeeding – especially when done exclusively or nearly exclusively – these risks are generally minor and could be easily avoided with proper nutrition and medication management. Just be sure to consult with your doctor before you start experiencing any extreme fluctuations in weight or other symptoms that might indicate an infection.
Considerations for Longer Lactations
While there are many benefits to breastfeeding, there are some risks that you need to be aware of. One of the more serious ones is overexposure to sunlight. As mentioned above, sunlight can cause the skin of your breasts to deteriorate and become wrinkled. This puts you and your baby at risk of infections, especially if you’re both not aware of the dangers surrounding breastmilk and exposure to the sun. In some cases, this can even lead to skin cancer. There are ways in which you can help protect your body while breastfeeding, and it’s also worth pointing out that your breasts are quite sensitive, and it might be best to avoid the sun during the hottest hours of the day. On the other hand, you might consider exposing your nipples to sunlight to help strengthen your baby’s skin while they’re still young. This will also help reduce the risk of them getting infections in the future. It’s always a balancing act when it comes to your health and that of your baby, and it might be best to consult with your doctor about which approach is right for your situation.
How to Make the Most of Breastfeeding
While there are many ways to make the most of breastfeeding, none of them are particularly easy. Many mothers find that their bodies just aren’t adapted to the task, and it can be quite the balancing act to get your nutrition and your baby’s needs met while still engorging at each feeding. One thing that mothers can do is to practice expressing their breasts regularly, which helps to reduce the risk of infections. Other than that, most mothers find that it’s all about trial and error. Just keep in mind that if you’re open to trying new things, you might be able to make the most of this unique and amazing experience that too many women avoid for fear of experiencing negative side effects.